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Microsoft patches critical security holes in Windows, Office, IE

The company issued fixes for 26 security vulnerabilities, including for SQL Server and Exchange

Microsoft has fixed 26 vulnerabilities in its software products, including several considered critical, the company said on Tuesday in its monthly security patch report.

The security holes, described in five critical and four important bulletins, affect multiple products, including Windows, Internet Explorer, Exchange, SQL Server and Office. In the worst-case scenarios, exploits could give attackers control of affected systems.

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The first critical bulletin, labeled MS12-060, involves Windows Common Controls vulnerabilities, which affect Office, SQL Server, other server products and developer tools.

There have been “limited, targeted attacks” to try to exploit this security hole, but no public proof-of-concept code has been made available to Microsoft’s knowledge, wrote Microsoft security official Yunsun Wee in a related blog post.

If a user visits a website that contains “specially crafted content” designed to exploit the vulnerability, attackers could execute code remotely on the affected machine. However, users would have to be tricked into visiting such a website. The malicious code can also be sent as an email attachment, but users would need to open the attachment for the attack to work.

Affected products include all supported editions of Office 2003, Office 2007, Office 2010 (except x64-based editions), SQL Server 2000 Analysis Services, SQL Server 2000 (except Itanium-based editions), SQL Server 2005 (except Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Express Edition, but including Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Express Edition with Advanced Services), SQL Server 2008, SQL Server 2008 R2, Commerce Server 2002, Commerce Server 2007, Commerce Server 2009, Commerce Server 2009 R2, Microsoft Host Integration Server 2004 SP 1, Visual FoxPro 8.0, Visual FoxPro 9.0 and Visual Basic 6.0 Runtime.

Microsoft patched a Windows Common Control bug in April that “made everyone sit up and take notice” due to the broad scope of important products it touched, said Andrew Storms, director of security operations at enterprise security vendor nCircle.

“There is some good news this month: that the attack vector associated with the [Windows Common Control] patch is an RTF (rich text format) file, and the victim has to explicitly open the file to allow the exploit. If you can’t get this patch rolled out or mitigation applied quickly, you should remind users about the dangers of opening attachments from unknown persons,” he said via email.

The second critical bulletin, labeled MS12-052, concerns four issues with IE that aren’t known to be under “active attack.” If successfully exploited, a malicious hacker could execute code on the affected machine with the privileges of the current user. As with the previous hole, users would need to visit a malicious Web page to fall victim to the attack. This vulnerability is rated critical for IE 6, IE 7, IE 8 and IE 9 on Windows clients and moderate for those same IE versions on Windows servers.

“It’s the third month in a row with a new Internet Explorer patch, so Microsoft is really taking advantage of the new ability to release an IE patch more frequently. This probably means there are a lot more IE patches in our collective future, since it’s a good bet Microsoft will be tackling their IE backlog post haste,” Storms said.

The third critical bulletin, labeled MS12-054, involves three holes in Windows Networking Components related to the Remote Administration Protocol (RAP) and one issue affecting the Print Spooler. The vulnerabilities could allow malicious hackers to launch denial-of-service attacks and execute code remotely on the affected machine, among other scenarios. Microsoft hasn’t received reports that these holes have been exploited.

The issue is critical for all supported editions of Windows XP and Windows Server 2003; important for all supported editions of Windows Vista; and moderate for all supported editions of Windows Server 2008, Windows 7 and Windows 2008 R2.

“This is something that predominantly affects small business and campus locations where Windows computers are configured in workgroups. If this describes your business, deploy this patch as soon as you can,” Storms said.

A fourth critical vulnerability, MS12-053, affects the Windows Remote Desktop Protocol and can be exploited by attackers who send a sequence of “specially crafted” RDP packets to an affected system. RDP isn’t turned on by default on any Windows OS. This hole is rated critical for all supported editions of Windows XP.

This bug has “a potential wormable condition” and could cause serious harm because it is “network aware” and requires no authentication, Storms said. “If you have XP on your network, then get the mitigations for this one installed ASAP,” he said.

A fifth critical vulnerability, MS12-058, relates to Exchange Server’s WebReady Document Viewing feature. The exploit could allow execution of remote code on the affected system. Users would need to preview a malicious file using Outlook Web App. This is rated critical for all supported editions of Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 and Microsoft Exchange Server 2010.

This fix closes the loop on a security advisory Microsoft issued in July, in which it explained that the existence of the vulnerabilities was due to the way files are parsed by Oracle Outside In code libraries. Oracle had fixed the security holes in its product earlier in July.

“This vulnerability really never went anywhere in the exploit community. We have so far seen very little uptake on actively exploiting the bug,” Storms said.

The four vulnerabilities rated important are MS12-055, related to Windows kernel-mode drivers, which would allow for unauthorized elevation of user privilege; MS12-056, a vulnerability in the JScript and VBScript scripting engines on 64-bit versions of Windows, which could allow remote code execution if users visit a malicious website; MS12-057, a hole in Office that could lead to remote code execution if a user opens a malicious file or embeds a malicious Computer Graphics Metafile (CGM) graphics file into an Office file; and MS12-059, a vulnerability in Visio that also could lead to remote code execution on an affected machine.

Wolfgang Kandek, CTO at enterprise security vendor Qualys, said CSOs and IT professionals should give top priority to the Windows Common Controls patch, which is already being targeted by attackers. “A second important vulnerability to address is MS12-058 for IT Admins that are responsible for Exchange servers,” he said via email.

Microsoft also announced a change in the way Windows deals with certificates whose RSA keys are under 1024 bits in length. A Windows update will restrict the use of such certificates. That update is now in the Download Center as well as the Microsoft Update Catalog so that enterprise administrators can download it and test it. The update will be widely released via Windows Update in October of this year.

Users whose machines are set up to receive Microsoft’s software patches automatically don’t need to do anything. The fixes will be installed on their computers automatically. The updates can also be manually downloaded at the Microsoft Update and Windows Update sites.

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Top 5 cities for big data jobs

San Francisco tops Modis list, followed by McLean, Va., Boston, St. Louis and Toronto

Corporate data stores are growing exponentially, nearly every tech vendor is positioning their products to help handle the influx of data, and IT departments are scrambling to find the right people to collect, analyze and interpret data in a way that’s meaningful to the business. On the employment front, the big data deluge is creating a hiring boom across North America. Modis, an IT staffing firm, identified five cities in particular where big data is driving job growth.

San Francisco tops the Modis list, followed by McLean, Va., Boston, St. Louis and Toronto. The roles that companies in these cities are fighting to fill include data scientist, data analyst, business intelligence professional and data modeling/data modeler.

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Business intelligence and data analysis have been core enterprise disciplines for a long time, but they’re becoming more important to businesses as data volumes rise, says Laura Kelley, a Modis vice president in Houston. “We’re in a new era in terms of how large the databases are, the amount of data we’re collecting, and how we’re using it. It’s much more strategic than it’s ever been.”

Big data professionals can be particularly difficult to find since many roles require a complicated blend of business, analytic, statistical and computer skills — which is not something a candidate acquires overnight. In addition, “clients are looking for people with a certain level of experience, who have worked in a big data environment. There aren’t a lot of them in the market,” Kelley says.


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Looking at recruiting trends across its offices, Modis finds there’s not one industry that’s doing the most big-data hiring. Rather, the cities have in common a concentration of large enterprises across myriad industries.

San Francisco, for instance, is home to large companies in the retail, insurance, healthcare, and e-commerce sectors.

McLean, Va., has both a strong commercial sector and government presence. “There are many data center operations in this area, both commercial and government related, that require talent to support the high volume of that data,” Modis explains in its report. “In addition, there is no larger consumer of IT products and services in the world than the US federal government.”

Banking and bio/pharmaceutical industries helped put Boston on the big data hiring map. “Both industries deal with large amounts of data that are detailed and complex in nature. That data then needs to be analyzed and placed in reports, dashboards and spreadsheets by data scientist and analysts,” Modis writes.

In St. Louis, universities and healthcare companies lead the big data hiring boom, followed by pharmaceutical and bioresearch firms that need to fill data analyst and scientist roles.

Lastly, in Toronto, financial institutions are fueling a need for business intelligence pros who can help organizations get a more precise and complete picture of the business and customers, Modis finds.

In the big picture, companies often have to compromise and prioritize their wish list — technical expertise, industry experience or quantitative statistical analysis skills, for experience — to find available big-data candidates.

“What is this person going to be doing? Do you need the technical skills? Or is the quantitative/statistical expertise more important? Is this person going to be doing data modeling or making business decisions?” Kelley says. “In an ideal world, companies want all of it. But it’s not an ideal world.”

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Windows 8 Update: Operating system is cooked, sent to manufacturers

Also, Microsoft knows Surface is ticking off the OEMs, Windows Store is open to third-party apps

Businesses seriously considering Windows 8 can get a copy of the final version starting Aug. 15 so long as they have a subscription to TechNet, Microsoft’s resource for technical information.

This means they can test and evaluate the product in order to make decisions about when and if to migrate to the new platform, which officially launches Oct. 26.


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Businesses without a TechNet subscription can get the final Windows 8 version Aug. 16 if they have a current Microsoft Software Assurance contract. The software will be accessible via the Microsoft Volume License Service Center. On the same day, the software will become available to Microsoft Partner Network members.

On Aug. 20, Windows 8 access is given to Microsoft Action Pack Providers who build services and products around Microsoft products. On Sept. 1, volume license customers that don’t have Software Assurance contracts can get Windows 8 via Microsoft Volume License Resellers.

Beyond all these upcoming deadlines, Microsoft this week officially released the final Windows 8 build to manufacturers, meaning they can start installing it on Windows 8 hardware, prepping for the official launch when devices with the operating system loaded go on sale.

This is just the start of a potentially busy time for Microsoft customers. Also released to manufacturer this week were Windows Server 2012 and Internet Explorer 10, both of which are also of interest to Microsoft shops. Server 2012 launches Sept. 4 and anchors what Microsoft describes as a cloud operating system. This is a tight integration between Server 2012 and Microsoft’s Azure cloud services, making it simpler to set up flexible data centers using traditional corporate infrastructure, private clouds and public clouds.

In a filing with the Security and Exchange Commission Microsoft stated the obvious — that selling its own Surface laptop/tablets will make its OEMs very unhappy.

“Our PC hardware products face competition from computer and other hardware manufacturers, many of which are also current or potential partners,” the Form 10-K says. “In addition, our Surface devices will compete with products made by our OEM partners, which may affect their commitment to our platform.”

That sounds like Microsoft expects the OEMs to be less than enthusiastic about slapping Microsoft operating systems on the hardware they make — not a good frame of mind for them to have if you’re launching a new operating system that depends in large part on OEMs licensing a lot of the software.
Windows Store opens for apps

Along with the release of the final version of Windows 8, the Windows Store is now accepting Metro-style applications from developers. There is a vetting process by Microsoft to approve any app that is accepted for sale in the store with the idea that if properly written, Metro apps will work well on Windows 8 machines, won’t slow them down and will be less likely to contain malware.

Note: In order to submit to the store, developers must have the release to manufacturer version of Windows 8.
iPad may be the default holiday gift

The excitement over Windows 8 on tablets may do more to confuse customers than it will do to actually sell the devices, according to an IDC report on the sale of iPads in Q2 of this year.

iPads crushed the competition, scoring 68.2% of all tablet shipments, the research firm says. With the iPad, Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet already available, and then Windows 8 and Windows RT devices going on sale in October, consumers may become confused.

“If anything, there’s a real risk that people will have too many options from which to choose this holiday season,” says Bob O’Donnell, IDC’s program vice president for clients and displays. “Consumers baffled by the differences between Amazon and Google versions of Android, or Windows 8 and Windows RT, may well default to market leader Apple. Or they may simply choose to remain on the sideline for another cycle.”

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Microsoft tool shows whether apps pose danger to Windows

Attack Surface Analyzer can identify multiple classes of weaknesses introduced by newly installed programs

IDG News Service – Microsoft has released Attack Surface Analyzer 1.0, a free tool that can help system administrators, IT security professionals or software developers understand how newly installed applications can affect the security of a Windows OS.

The tool scans for classes of known security weaknesses that can be introduced by the files, registry keys, services, Microsoft ActiveX controls and other parameters created or changed by new applications.

It can identify executable files, directories, registry keys, or processes with weak access control lists (ACLs). It can also flag processes that don’t mark memory regions as non-executable (NX), which could result in the bypassing of the Data Execution Prevention (DEP) Windows security feature. The tool also identifies services with fast restart times that could be attacked to bypass address space layout randomization (ASLR), as well as changes to the Windows Firewall rules or Internet Explorer security policies.


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These and many other weaknesses that the tool identifies can facilitate various types of attacks, including some that could allow attackers to gain control of the system, execute malicious code or gain access to sensitive data.

The tool is already being used by internal product groups at Microsoft and a public beta version has been available to download since January 2011. The 1.0 stable version released on Thursday contains significant performance enhancements and bug fixes.

“Through improvements in the code, we were able to reduce the number of false positives and improve Graphic User Interface performance,” the Microsoft Security Development Lifecycle (SDL) team said in a blog post. “This release also includes in-depth documentation and guidance to improve ease of use.”

The tool has 32-bit and 62-bit versions and supports Windows Vista and newer versions of Microsoft’s OS, including Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 that hit the RTM (release to manufacturing) milestone on Tuesday.

Attack Surface Analyzer 1.0 is not compatible with the beta version of the tool, so existing users need to perform new “clean” system and post-application-installation scans — known as the baseline and product scans respectively.

Attack Surface Analyzer requires .NET Framework 4 or higher present on the system in order to compare and analyze scan results. However, performing the actual scans can be done from the command line interface without .NET Framework.